Your Labor Day weekend reading: Cost to cities of losing teams, and Calgary’s art of the steal

If you’re looking for some light stadium-subsidy reading to make your blood boil over the last weekend of summer, there were a couple of good ones this week, and I don’t say that just because they quote me a lot:

  • Louis Bien at SBNation has a long piece up about the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders threatening to move to L.A., and the cost on those teams’ fan bases. (I’m not honestly sure what the “you care too much” is about in the headline, as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Bien’s actual article, but whatever.) Included is a long section on the dubious threat to cities’ well-being that team relocations actually pose, with my favorite line coming from Rick Eckstein of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums fame:

Quality of life improvements claimed by the franchise were “a load of crap,” Eckstein wrote to me. He continued: “Los Angeles has been doing just fine without football for the last decade; there has not been a mass exodus from Seattle after the Sonics left; the Long Island suburbs will not go vacant with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, just as they survived the Nets leaving; Montreal has shown no ill effects after losing the Expos while the Nationals decidedly did NOT put DC ‘on the map.'”

  • Katie Baker in Grantland has an article that does a really cool thing, taking the “Art of the Steal” chapter from Field of Schemes (and subsequent “Art of the Steal Revisited” chapter from the expanded edition) and applying it specifically to the Calgary Flames owners’ arena demands. Best quote in the piece, though it’s not new and wasn’t particularly said about arena demands (it was about hockey lockouts), is from current Flames president Brian Burke when he worked for the Maple Leafs: “My theory is, make the first meeting as short and unpleasant as possible. Sometimes it’s better to just punch the guy in the face.” Not sure if demanding at least $490 million in taxpayer cash while claiming this would be for the public good quite qualifies as a punch in the face, but it’s pretty close!

Carson stadium design scraps lightning-bolt tower, what’s the point anymore?

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders presented their Carson stadium plan to the NFL last week, and on Monday shared their trailer with the public. If you like swooping CG renderings and Kiefer Sutherland, it’s, well, got those:

It’s also missing something from earlier static renderings. Try to figure out what it is? (Er, without peeking at my headline.)

Previous plans called for a tower that extends 115 to 120 feet through and above the main concourse of the sleek, futuristic stadium. The tower’s cauldron would change depending on the team: simulated lightning bolts shooting out of a glass ball for the Chargers and a massive flame in honor of legendary owner Al Davis when the Raiders play…

Stadium backers confirmed that the design elements have been scrubbed from the plans. No reason was given, other than the previous renderings, released in April, were preliminary in nature.

Translation: Sure, we threw it in with the initial drawings, but it was too hard to do with our video software, let alone actually build. That would be crazy!

So farewell, giant Van De Graaff generator. We are sad to see you go, but not all that surprised, because that’s why they (okay, I) call i “vaportecture.”

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Which NFL teams will go to LA? No one can predict, but here are some predictions anyway

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about yesterday’s NFL non-action around moving teams to L.A. or not — in short, the owners of the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers submitted presentations on the same L.A. stadium plans that we all already knew about, then no one decided anything — and while I was thinking, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin went and did it for me:

It’s a simple matter of math at this point. The NFL is going to move at least one team—Giants owner Steve Tisch says “it’s better than 50-50” that a decision will be made by the 2016 season—and Oakland is the only chopping-block city currently unwilling to offer its team’s ultrawealthy owners hundreds of millions of dollars to stay. Mark Davis has no attachment to the Bay; sentiment doesn’t factor into it.

Good for Oakland, honestly. It—like St. Louis, like San Diego, like every single American city—has much more important things to spend its limited funds on. But this remains sad news for Raiders fans, who seem likely to lose their team, possibly as soon as next year. It’s not fair, but the NFL has all the leverage, because if Oakland won’t make any concessions, there are other cities that will. The only way the stadium scam will ever be stopped cold is if politicians everywhere simultaneously decide sports leagues don’t deserve handouts. It’s hard to see that happening in the near future. It’ll be even harder when politicians look at football-less Oakland, and know the NFL will be more than happy to call their bluff.

Well, maybe. Undeniably, Oakland has the least close to anything resembling a viable football stadium plan: Whereas St. Louis is offering the Rams to go halfsies on a stadum and isn’t sure how it’ll come up with its half, and San Diego has a plan to pay for maybe a third of a stadium that the Chargers hated the minute it left the presses, Oakland has hopes that maybe one day there will be a plan that can actually debated, but not very strong hopes at that. So with three teams and five slots (counting L.A. as two), it’s hard to picture Oakland not ending up an empty chair when this is all over.

That said, it’s never as simple as all that. What happens next is the NFL owners all sit around and figure out how to decide on which teams should most logically move for next season — oh, sorry, they figure out how to exploit the current situation to make the most money. For the time being (the course of the 2015 season, certainly), that should mean speaking ever more loudly about how two teams will be moving to L.A. in 2016, in order to keep fans and elected officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland panicked that they not be one of the two.

What happens, though, if — okay, when — we get to January and the three non-L.A. cities are still all in their various states of incomplete deals? Sure, you can set ever-shorter deadlines, you can fly Roger Goodell into town to frighten the state legislature, but eventually you need to decide whether to have your bluff called or not. Which means deciding whether to take the offers on the table from existing cities, or selecting Door #2, whether that be Inglewood or Carson.

And here’s where we run into unknowns again, because we simply don’t have a clue how lucrative the L.A. market is compared to the certain cost of being on the hook for paying for virtually all of the cost of building stadiums in Inglewood or Carson. And for that matter, the NFL may not know either. It all remains a massive game of chicken with unreliable information all around, which is no doubt one reason why the league has been stalling as long as it can, in the hopes that somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d see three options. In one, Rams owner Stan Kroenke gets approval to move to L.A., then either the Raiders or Chargers join them. Whichever team is left out immediately starts threatening to move to St. Louis in order to get a better deal out of it current home town. In the second, the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson as planned, and Kroenke probably takes whatever deal he can get in St. Louis, though he’d lose a ton of leverage at that point. (One reason why option one is more likely to be approved by the NFL.)

Option three is the status quo: The NFL owners can’t come to an agreement, and decide to let things drag on into 2016. I’m not sure I’d say it’s likely — there’s little to be gained from stalling much longer than they have already — but it is 100% possible. Just keep in mind that none of this has to do with what makes sense: It’s a bunch of people demanding ransom in a chaotic situation, and those can often end in unexpected ways.

SD issues new funding plan for Chargers stadium that’s slightly cheaper, Chargers hate on it even more

The city of San Diego has issued a new stadium proposal for the Chargers, a proposal that Chargers execs immediately dismissed as unworkable because it would require voter approval of a tax increase, and — wait, didn’t we just do this once before? We did? That’s what I thought.

Anyway, the latest funding plan from Mayor Kevin Faulconer, if anyone cares:

  • $200 million in cash from the city (raised via bonds)
  • $150 million in cash from the county (raised who knows how)
  • $362.5 million from the Chargers (from “net Stadium revenues,” i.e., out of their pockets)
  • $187.5 million from PSL sales
  • $200 million from the NFL’s G-4 program

That’s $1.1 billion, which is not actually as much as the $1.4 billion that was estimated in the previous plan, but all these construction cost numbers are fictional anyway, so why not? In the latest plan, the Chargers would be responsible for all cost overruns and all operations and maintenance costs — apparently Faulconer read that Voice of San Diego article too — and the city would not be on the hook to cover any shortfall in PSL sales, unlike the 49ers deal in Santa Clara, plans in Carson, and the disaster that hit Oakland with huge losses in the Coliseum renovation for the Raiders.

So we’d be looking at a semi-hard cap of $350 million in subsidies, as opposed to at least double that before, which is a step in the right direction. It’s not entirely clear from the mayor’s Powerpoint whether the team would still get $180 million worth of free land from the city, or whether there would still be a property tax exemption thanks to the public owning the stadium (but not any of the stadium revenues, which would all go to the Chargers), or who would get money from naming rights, or lots of other details. But still, at least the total public cost has come down a bit, thanks mostly to ditching the sale of another $225 million in land to a developer and pouring that into the pot as well.

Whether the reduced public cost would be worth it to San Diego is another story — but then, given that the Chargers owners have already rejected this plan, it’s probably a moot point. To me this still looks like a potential lose-lose for both sides — both San Diego taxpayers and the Chargers ownership could end up with red ink on their hands — which isn’t surprising, really, given that $1.1 billion is a hell of a lot of red ink to sop up with just the proceeds from selling snazzier luxury seating and the like.

Anyway, Faulconer’s report also included some new renderings of what the stadium vaportecture would look like, to distract you from all those numbers:

stadiumconcept007Um, yeah, that’s pretty distracting, all right. I guess once fans start falling to their deaths from those Jetsons space-bridges, no one will remember who paid what for the whole mess, right?

Old Chargers stadium costing San Diego a bundle in upkeep (but so would new Chargers stadium)

The city of San Diego released — okay, leaked — a report on Friday that maintenance to Qualcomm Stadium could cost between $259 million and $282 million. That’s money that won’t have to be spent on Qualcomm if it’s torn down after the Chargers move to a new stadium, so that’s a good reason to spend a few hundred million dollars on a new stadium, right?

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you can probably guess at the answer. First off, $282 million over 20 years isn’t the same as $282 million right now (San Diegans are actually being asked to pay between $650 million and $1 billion, but never mind that for the moment) — I’d guesstimate the present value is more like $170 million now, since some of the costs can be pushed off into Miley Cyrus’s first term in the White House.

More than that, though, there’s a huge omission in the city report. Did you spot it yet? The Voice of San Diego did:

When the mayor’s task force came out with its plan, the National University System Institute for Policy Research estimated we would lose $11 million or more per year in the same way.

Why? The task force had the Chargers paying big annual rents. But that money would go to paying off debt to build the stadium. That meant the city was on the hook for operations and maintenance.

The maintenance costs of new buildings are almost always overlooked in new stadium and arena deals, and all too often wind up coming back to bite cities in their municipal asses. There are other arguments that the city could help fund maintenance by holding more non-football events at a new stadium — because somehow tons of stadium acts would materialize if only the Chargers’ stadium were newer — but at this point, we’re way past any hope that a windfall of cash would result from swapping out an old stadium for a new one.

Except: There is one way that the city of San Diego could get out of maintaining any kind of football stadium at all. That’s to not have a football team. If the Chargers left for L.A. (or anywhere), then San Diego could knock down Qualcomm, sell the land to a developer or use it itself, and never have to worry about maintenance again.

Or the Chargers could just agree to a deal where they pay to maintain their own damn stadium. But if the NFL keeps insisting on operating the way it operates, it really shouldn’t be surprised if cities — or at least news sites — start replying with, “Sorry, not worth it at that price.”

SD mayor doesn’t know what his Chargers plan is, declares full speed ahead regardless

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has called for spending $2.1 million on an environmental impact study of his dead-in-the-water Chargers stadium plan, which, whatever, mayors spend that kind of money on stupid stuff all the time. The weird thing, though, is in the EIS fine print:

California law requires people who are building things to study not only the projects they plan to build but also to reasonably foreseeable expansions or additions. If they don’t do this, and they later announce plans for condos or development on the side of the stadium, they will very vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging they piecemealed the environmental study to make sure it was easy to approve.

The mayor’s office doesn’t disagree. It has simply dropped the idea that real estate development around the new stadium will help pay for the new stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s spokesman, Craig Gustafson, told me in an email that the mayor’s task force (otherwise known as the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group, or CSAG) did recommend ancillary development but it was just that: a recommendation.

“The City/County plan does not rely on ancillary development for a stadium to be financed,” Gustafson wrote. “The plan the City/County team is developing is based on negotiations and discussions with the Chargers and the NFL.”

Um, what? Here’s the CSAG funding plan:

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 9.00.30 AMOkay, maybe they intend to sell 75 acres of the Qualcomm Stadium site to a developer for $225 million just so he can stroke and hum to it, but I’m guessing there would be an expectation of actually building something there. Which means that Faulconer just blew a $225 million hole in his own plan, with nothing identified to replace it beyond “we’re negotiating.”

If you want to be truly cynical, it’s possible that Faulconer is trying to figure out a way to rush through an EIS by making it stadium-only — thus pleasing the Chargers owners’ desire for a quick deal — while maybe figuring out a way to sell the land to the Chargers or somebody on a “we’ll figure out how to let you build on it later” basis. Not that this seems likely to work — Chargers stadium czar Mark Fabiani already called the EIS a “misbegotten scheme” — but at least it makes Faulconer look like he’s doing something, I guess? Not anything that makes sense, mind you, but people do tend to like action even when it’s dumb.

Rose Bowl nixes hosting NFL team, L.A. temporary stadium options down to Coliseum or playing in street

The Pasadena-controlled board that owns the Rose Bowl voted this week not to bid to provide a temporary home to an NFL team in Los Angeles, saying they would rather host an annual music festival instead. (The music festival wouldn’t be during the NFL season, but its environmental impact statement requires that the Rose Bowl not host pro football if the festival takes place.)

This still leaves the NFL with a bunch of options, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno report, they’re all problematic. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are baseball stadiums, and not only does the NFL hate playing in baseball stadiums, but baseball teams hate sharing digs with football, which messes up their schedule and tears up the grass. The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson only holds 27,000 — though NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis tried to put a happy face on this to the L.A. Times, saying, “There’s something interesting about playing in a smaller facility, to start with creating a scarcity of tickets and increase the level of interest early on,” yeah, right — and is run by AEG, which already has no love for the NFL after having its own downtown L.A. stadium plan shot down.

That leaves the L.A. Coliseum, which would be fine but for two things: First off, USC’s lease on the Coliseum only allows it to host one NFL team, which would be a problem if, say, both the Raiders and Chargers needed temporary homes while waiting for a new stadium to be completed. Second, it’s really hard to get a bidding war going with only one serious bidder, so any team wanting to bunk at the Coliseum temporarily likely just saw its prospective rent go up.

This probably isn’t enough to be more than a speed bump en route to a new L.A. NFL stadium (and team), but given that the finances of such a project already look shaky enough, you never know which is going to be the speed bump that breaks the camel’s back. (Yeah, I know the metaphor doesn’t really make sense, work with me here.) The fight to be the future home of the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams still seems like a battle that no one can possibly win — it’s one reason I don’t expect any resolution soon, but I guess we’ll get some hints, maybe, following the August owners’ meetings.

Oakland developer provides city with Raiders funding plan, but you aren’t allowed to see it yet

The Raiders-A’s land war in Oakland is really heating up now, with developer Floyd Kephart providing city officials with a financing plan for a new Raiders stadium (which he can’t tell you about, and the city won’t release yet). Since A’s owner Lew Wolff still insists that he wants the Raiders to vamoose so he can build a stadium and surrounding development on the Coliseum site (and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred backs him up, because that’s what he’s there to do), looks like there’s gonna be a gum fight.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, meanwhile, only released an email statement that she is “analyzing the viability of the submission from Mr. Kephart,” and taking a “multipronged approach so we have as many options available as possible for stadium development without the use of City of Oakland general fund dollars.” Given that past Raiders plans have all involved the use of a heck of a lot of City of Oakland money, this doesn’t seem promising for Kephart’s plan, but we’ll know more when we know more.

Meanwhile, down in Carson, where a combined Raiders/San Diego Chargers stadium remains on the table — and which is currently embroiled in a crazy internecine government battle involving sexual assault charges against the current mayor and the city clerk calling a former mayor a “witch,” all of which is very entertaining but not really all that relevant to the stadium issues at hand — there was a public town hall meeting last night with Chargers and Raiders officials, and the Raiders officials failed to show up. Anybody who has a clue what Raiders owner Mark Davis is thinking in all this, please raise your hand, okay?

Talks over Chargers stadium now just involve both sides insulting each other

If San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer thought that proposing a Chargers stadium plan that nobody was really happy with and then calling for a public vote in order to avoid a more difficult public vote would at least be a productive starting point for negotiations — hey, it worked in Milwaukee, sort of — it’s not really working out that way at all. We already covered the Chargers owners’ statement on Tuesday that this voting thing doesn’t really work for them; since then, things have only descended further into everybody just yelling at each other:

  • Faulconer sniped on Twitter that “we can get this done if we have a willing partner,” while one of his political consultants snarked, “For the first time in seven months of incredibly hard work from the City, County, and the CSAG, the Chargers did something honest – walk away from the table.”
  • Faulconer said he’d next go straight to the NFL to convince the league that a public vote could be held without worries about holdups from environmental lawsuits, with city councilmember Scott Sherman adding approvingly, “They wouldn’t have a choice but to come back to the table.”
  • Chargers stadium czar Mark Fabiani told a KPBS interviewer that “we’re out of time for 2015″ and the only way the Chargers stay put in San Diego is if the NFL rejects their move to L.A. (Asked why the team had agreed to negotiate at all if it was too late, Fabiani replied, “We were hoping the city would come up with something we hadn’t thought of.”)
  • Fabiani told a 10News interviewer via email that negotiating with the city had been “a waste of five months,” that the L.A. market is “far more lucrative,” and that “we haven’t seen any evidence so far in our dealings with Mayor Faulconer that he is capable of managing such a complex project,” calling his approach “remarkably unsophisticated.”

Yep, that’s a lot of yelling. What it all seems to add up to is two sides each trying to make their pitch to the NFL: Fabiani is trying to tell the Chargers’ fellow owners, “Hey, we tried, the mayor’s a buffoon, we have no choice but to go to L.A.,” while Faulconer is sending the message, “We have a good offer on the table, kick these nuts in the butt and tell them to negotiate.” This is looking more and more like the endgame will be an NFL meeting in which the Chargers, St. Louis Rams, and Oakland Raiders owners all try to be the first to win approval to go to L.A.; I’m still skeptical that any of them should really want to, but NFL owners are as susceptible as the next person to wanting things that they’re told they can’t have. Maybe more so.

Chargers to San Diego: No votes, please, just hand over stadium cash

If San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was really proposing a public vote on a Chargers stadium deal because he thought it would be a way to make everyone happy, well, that sure didn’t work. The Chargers owners issued a statement yesterday saying they have no interest in any of this whole “people voting” nonsense:

he Chargers have concluded that it is not possible to place a ballot measure before voters in December 2015 in a legally defensible manner given the requirements of the State’s election law and the California Environmental Quality Act. The various options that we have explored with the City’s experts all lead to the same result: Significant time-consuming litigation founded on multiple legal challenges, followed by a high risk of eventual defeat in the courts. The Chargers are committed to maintaining an open line of communication with the City’s negotiators as we move through the summer and leading up to the special August meeting of National Football League owners. That meeting may provide important information about what is likely to occur during the remainder of 2015.”

In English, that translates as: Give us a plan that nobody can sue over, and give it to us by August, capisce? Also, possibly, We can’t sit around waiting for you when we have to beat Stan Kroenke to the treasure! Clearly none of us covering the NFL L.A. stadium move threat mess is going to get much of a summer vacation this year.